Feds are encouraging schools take the lead in vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds

District leaders can use ESSER funds to vaccinate teachers, staff and students
By: | November 9, 2021

The secretaries of the departments of Health and Human Services and Education are urging schools to take steps to improve vaccination uptake among children ages five to 11.

The Letter to Colleagues written by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra calls on school officials to host school vaccine clinics and conduct outreach to families and the community about the importance of vaccination as a preventative measure. The FDA approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 on Oct. 29.

“Vaccination is the best tool we have to keep our students safe from COVID-19, maintain in-person learning, and prevent the closure of schools and cancellation of valued extracurricular activities,” Cardona and Becerra wrote. “Schools play a vital role in providing access to the vaccine and trusted information on it.”

Cardona and Becerra called on “all schools serving children ages five through eleven years old [to] stand up vaccination clinics as feasible, or in dedicated sites in their communities.”

The secretaries also urged such schools to distribute information about the importance of vaccination to parents and guardians. “Parents rely on their children’s teachers, principals, school nurses, and other school personnel to help keep their students safe and healthy every school year. The communications you issue — in languages accessible to your parents – will be critical in helping families learn more about the vaccine.”

Finally, the letter suggests that school leaders partner with health officials in the community to participate in family and community engagement efforts on the vaccine. “We encourage you to reach out to pediatricians, family physicians, hospitals, early care and education programs, other child and family-serving organizations, and other medical partners and providers in your community to host these engagements.”

The letter points to several available resources to support these efforts, including ESSER funding. ED has previously issued guidance and FAQs on using such funds for vaccination clinics for students and staff approved to receive vaccines, as well to provide incentives for participation in vaccination and screening.

ESSER and GEER funds may be used to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers, staff, and eligible students in a local educational agency because the implementation of public health protocols, including those aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for safe school reopening and operation, is an allowable use of funds, according to FAQ: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs, Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Programs, 121 LRP 18070 (OESE 05/26/21),

LEAs can also use ESSER and GEER funds to support vaccination outreach efforts, which could include “activities to create awareness and build confidence, facilitate clinics, and provide incentives such as paid time off for staff to get vaccinated,” according to the FAQ.

In addition, LEAs can use funding under the American Rescue Plan to provide “reasonable” incentives for students and members of their households to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “Providing reasonable incentives to students, including those enrolled in pre-kindergarten and K-12 (if eligible for vaccination), and their household members to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is allowable because it is a strategy that an LEA may implement in alignment with the CDC guidance on vaccinations, increase vaccination rates in the community and therefore bolster public health, and reduce risk of transmission,” according to FAQ: Using American Rescue Plan and Other Pandemic Relief Funds to Provide Incentives to Students to Get the COVID-19 Vaccination, 121 LRP 24656 (EDU 07/01/21).

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.